In Review: Star Trek: The Face of the Unknown

Fun moments, plenty of action, and some good surprises. Sure to please Star Trek fans.

Star Trek: The Face of the Unknown by Christopher L. Bennett

Published by Pocket Books on December 27, 2016. Softcover of 358 pages at $7.99. Also available as an ebook. 

The cover: The U.S.S. Enterprise is confronted once again by the Fesarius, as seen in the classic episode “The Corbomite Manuever.” However, six buoys are also surrounding the iconic ship, and if one looks closely a bolt of energy can be seen striking out of one and onto the Federation’s flagship. The top half of space holds a familiar face that once threatened the Enterprise — Balok. But that character was revealed to be a puppet. Could this actually be the face of an alien race? Great cover by an uncredited artist who has captured all the imagery of the episode that had me instantly reaching to pick this book up as soon as I saw it. Overall grade: A+

The premise: From the back cover, “Investigating a series of violent raids by a mysterious predatory species, Captain James T. Kirk discovers that those events share a startling connection with the First Federation, a friendly but secretive civilization contacted early in the U.S.S. Enterprise’s five-year mission. Traveling to First Federation territory in search of answers, the Enterprise suddenly comes under attack from these marauders. Seeking refuge, the starship finds its way to the true home of the First Federation: an astonishing collection of worlds hidden from the galaxy beyond. The inhabitants of this isolated realm are wary of outsiders, and some accuse Kirk and his crew of bringing the wrath of their ancient enemy down upon them. When an attempt to stave off disaster goes tragically wrong, Kirk is held fully accountable, and Commander Spock learns there are even deeper forces that threaten this society. If Kirk and Spock cannot convince the First Federation’s leaders to overcome their fears, the resulting catastrophe could doom them all!” This is a good summary, but goes three sentences too far in spoiling the first half of the book. I was already sold on it by the cover imagery and the mention of the First Federation, but after reading the novel, it tells too much. Nothing past the first quarter of the book should have been told. Overall grade: B-

The characters: James T. Kirk is in prime form in this novel, with him being a quick thinker, a quick wit, and one who always puts his ship and crew before his own safety. He has some outstanding speeches when locked in a cell with a hostile alien and convincing one leader of the possibility of saving the future by changing what was done in the past. Spock demonstrates a little used ability at one point and has a relationship with a character that echoes “The Enterprise Incident.” Uhura is a key figure in the book for demonstrating a skill not often used in other books, as well as having a gut wrenching scene with a villain. Sulu is very gregarious in this book, asking Chekov to accompany him on an adventurous outing that teases a latter scene. Chekov is given some excellent justification for wanting to leave the Enterprise, signaling the oncoming animated series. Doctor McCoy is the only regular cast member who doesn’t get much to do. He has his Kirk moments, giving advice to his captain, and one scene where he does his usual “A doctor saves everyone” bit. This fits the character and Bennett gives more than ample space to the others, but it was pretty rote for Bones. The new characters are very interesting, though stating who they are would spoil much of the book. There’s some obvious turnabouts from some individuals from the beginning, but there are several reveals that did surprise. The most impressive new characters were the Dassik, who have a great history, look terrific, and had voices I could hear in a famous actor’s voice every time they spoke. Loved them and want to see them in other Trek books. Overall grade: A-

The settings: This is a huge element of the novel and is spoiled slightly by the premise. Suffice to say, it’s a new creation for any Trek novel I’ve read, and I’ve been reading since The Entropy Effect was first published. Bennett hits the science fairly hard for this novel, more so than in other Trek novels, and I appreciated him doing so; the explanations for how the First Federation exists is captivating. This will either be a plus or a minus to readers. I’m not a science person and I found the ideas involved in this setting interesting, while others might think it goes on too long. There’s much time spent in visiting different locales in this setting, and each is very different from the others. Overall grade: A

The action: There’s a lot of classic Trek action in this book: ship battles, rescues, hand-to-hand battles, and verbal battles under stressful situations to get one to change their opinion so they can assist in a situation. I couldn’t stop reading when I got to Chapter Seven. If you’re a fan of the series, you won’t be able to stop either. Overall grade: A

The conclusion: Everything wraps up neatly, complete with a classic Kirk, Spock, and McCoy conversation pondering their actions and the aliens’ future. Overall grade: A

The final line: A novel that expands tremendously from a classic episode. There are some fun moments, plenty of action, and some good surprises. Sure to please Star Trek fans. Overall grade: A 

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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